Tuesday, October 14, 2003

It wasn't the trip from hell...

...but it started off that way. Saturday morning, we headed down to Allentown PA for a family reunion (Jane's mom's family). Well, the original plan was to leave around 7 or so. But we decided to stay in a little later, and hit the road about 9 (after a nice, leisurely breakfast and such). Then David came to the conclusion that this trip wasn't a good idea, and started to make us aware of it.

After only about 20 minutes.

So we pulled over at the Framingham rest area and Jane hopped in the back with him. We tried the bottle strategy, which only resulted in milk being flung all around the back of the van. I'll be scrubbing a lot tomorrow.

Then, like the super-genius I am, I decided that the usual route (90 to 84 to 15 to 95 to 287 to 78 to 22) wasn't ideal, and we could bypass the NYC area by taking 84 all the way into PA. So we hit all sorts of traffic and construction in the western stretch of 84 after Hartford. That part sucked. Finally, in Danbury, a highlight! It was lunchtime and we were getting antsy for food - suddenly, a sign by the roadside appears advertising a Duchess off the next exit in Danbury! Yay! So we get off and follow the signs.

It wasn't there. After a few miles, we've backtracked to the previous exit on I-84. In frustration, we got back on and crossed into New York. There's an exit a short way into the state that promises a Wendy's. OK, that's not great but it's better than settling for a McDonald's. Meanwhile, David's still miserable, we're starving, and I get off at the exit. Only to see a sign that the Wendy's is quite a few miles away. There ought to be a law, I tell ya.

So we got back on, crossed the Hudson, and headed down the stretch through the bottom of the state. Finally, in frustration, we did actually stop at a McDonald's. Of course, David (who had finally dozed off) woke up while we were parked there (I went in for the "food") and so was profoundly unhappy again. By this time we're a little under four hours into the drive.

We cross into Pennsylvania at Port Jervis (the top of the Delaware Water Gap area), and, looking at the map, I decide that Route 209 looks like a good way down - it follows the Delaware River downwards through Stroudsburg and onto 33, which goes the rest of the way to the Lehigh Valley. It looks like a well-developed major roadway that promises to be scenic and really doesn't go through much civilization on the way. Cool, right?

Well, the first 19 miles after we get on (after a little delay in a town called Milford's downtown) are just as advertised. Pretty, fast, and easy driving. Then we hit the outskirts of Stroudsburg.

Stroudsburg, it turns out, is the gateway to the Poconos. So we get into a 5-mile crawling backup caused by all the resorts and a huge flea market, anchored by two very poorly-timed traffic lights that bottled it all up. Those five miles took about 45 minutes. None of us are now happy.

Finally, we get through it all and I turn onto 33. Route 33 is a very fast, four-lane divided highway that's just what the doctor ordered. We get to Bethlehem quickly, and turn onto 22 for the final push of about 10 miles to Allentown.

Allentown was once a magnificent city. There's some great architecture as you drive through, and it overlooks the valley. Beautiful views. Unfortunately, the hotel we're staying at (we've been there many times before, Jane's folks have been booking it for us) is in between owners yet again. One reason may be that it looks like it's surrounded by crack dens and tattoo parlors (and two pawn shops). At the end of the business day the city center becomes deserted, for good reason.

We went in, only to find that the computer system that handles the reservations was down. Nobody could check in at all. However, they were having an open bar to compensate partially. I had a couple of Diet Buds while waiting for the situation to be resolved. Finally, faced with all the guests plus a girl's soccer team, the staff decided to solve it manually. A staffer with a master key went and inventoried rooms, reporting back down what was available. My sister-in-law went up to scout out a few for the whole family. She scored well, though we switched a little later to a non-smoking room. The restaurant was closed, and the bar only had a few bizarre-looking items available to eat. We sure as heck weren't going to walk anywhere!

I wound up ordering pizzas from a delivery joint with my brother-in-law. They were pretty good, too. And legitimately so, not because I was hungry. David was having a great time playing with his cousins, and when we went back to our room for the night he went right down to sleep.

Only to wake up at 4 AM upset and inconsolable. We wound up taking him into the bed with us for a pretty sleepless night.

Things picked up considerably the next day, though. They put out a decent breakfast buffet of mainly fresh fruit in the otherwise-closed restaurant, and the coffee was good. Thank goodness, I needed it badly. My car had not been stolen that night, so we were able to get to the reunion, and we had a great time. I like the folks on Jane's mom's side of the family, and it was really nice to see them all. Jane enjoyed it, though I think she was a little busy helping with some of the hosting-related chores. We brought David's pack & play with us, figuring he'd take a nap, and we were right. he slept for about an hour and a half, right in the middle of all the noise and fuss. It was adorable. Most of the afternoon, though, he played with all his cousins (some of which we'd never even met before), and ran around entertaining people. I mainly chased him. But it was a lot of fun.

After the reunion, we celebrated our anniversary (which was also that day), by going out to the Brass Rail for steak sandwiches with Jane's folks. All five of us had steak subs, of course. The night's sleep wasn't quite as traumatic the second night, and the drive back was fast and easy. We stopped for lunch at my parents' house, going the regular route this time. I learned my lesson on the way down. We got home around 5.

It was a short trip in duration - only about 55 hours total and 700-ish miles. But the first 9 hours (counting the hotel fiasco) took about twice as long as the whole rest of the trip combined. I learned three valuable lessons this weekend:

1: Stay in the newer hotels out by the airport.

2: Get adjoining rooms if possible. Or a suite room that gives you and toddler some privacy.

3: Don't screw with taking a different route when you have said toddler in the car.

If you obey those, all should be well.

Anyhow, the reunion really was a good time, and I took a lot of pictures. They'll be uploaded along with a David update sometime later this week. Meanwhile, I was up watching the ballgame and I needed to write this to finish settling down. Time to go to sleep now!

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